Dallin H Oaks of Mormonism’s Twelve Apostles is a lawyer and jurist (North America: legal expert, judge) and the tempered and balanced tone of his profession comes across in his April 2017 conference talk. (See also Ensign magazine, May 2017, pp 100-103) Sans passion, his delivery is measured and reasonable, if emphatic, but is ultimately frustrated by the content of his talk. That such gifts should serve to press an apologetic for the Mormon plan of salvation is more than unfortunate.
Yet the faithful probably loved it, hung on his every word as he carefully enunciated all they knew in their hearts to be true, and corrected every ‘other Christian’ on the planet. Unusually in the correlated to mediocrity Mormonism of the 21st century, he spoke reasonably plainly of what Mormons believe about eternal things. In a classic example of content without substance, assertion without grounds, he could almost have been channelling Bruce R McConkie.
The Nature of God
Speaking of the nature of the Mormon God, he says, ‘In contrast to the belief that God is an incomprehensible and unknowable mystery is the truth that the nature of God and our relationship to Him is knowable and is the key to everything else in our doctrine. The Bible records Jesus’s (sic) great Intercessory Prayer, where He declared that “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”‘ (John 17:3)
The Westminster Confession describes God, ‘There is but one only, living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working in all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will…’
There are some big words in there, but I don’t see anywhere ‘unknowable.’ ‘Incomprehensible’ has been taken to mean ‘unknowable,’ but they are not the same. Mormonism portrays Christians as having, down the centuries, arrived at this idea of God’s unknowability by councils and long drawn out deliberations, because we have lost our way and simply ‘don’t know.’ Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Westminster Confession is peppered with texts showing why we believe what we believe, describing God as ‘infinite in being and perfection’ (Job 11:7-9; 26:14); ‘a most pure spirit,’ (Jn.4:24); ‘invisible,’ (1 Tim.1:17); ‘without body, parts,’ or passions,’ (Tim.1:17; Deut.4:15/16; Jn.4:24 with Lk.24:39); ‘immense,’ (1 Kings 8:27; Jer.23:23/24); ‘eternal,’ (Ps.90:2; 1 Tim.1:17); ‘almighty,’ (Gen.17:1; Rev.4:8); ‘most wise,’ (Ro.16:27); ‘most holy,’ (Is.6:3; Rev.4:8); ‘most free,’ (Ps.115:3); ‘most absolute,’ (Ex.3:14); ‘immutable,’ (Eph.1:11)
We call him infinite, invisible, immense, eternal, almighty, immutable, and incomprehensible, because the Bible tells us he is all these things and more.
God is Incomprehensible but not Unknowable
To finite, created beings, the infinite God is incomprehensible (unfathomable, inscrutable), but he is not unknowable since that would make him incapable of making himself known, which would make him less than God. If life is to know the only true God (Jn.17:3) then life is most certainly available since the only true God has made himself known (Heb.1:1-3; Jn.14:9) This understanding is key to everything else in Christian doctrine and cannot be so easily dismissed.
Mormons also have a problem with the way God is described as ‘without passions.’ The objection is that Scripture clearly shows God loving, caring, grieving, angry, etc. But the writers of the confession knew their Bible and simply meant God’s love, care, grief, and anger are not impulsive, unpredictable, and contingent like man’s, but, righteous, measured, and settled according to his perfect character. They are contrasting God with man, not a passionless God with a passionate.
The Divines writing the Confession lined up their witnesses carefully, making full use of God’s revealed word in Scripture. Moses, Job, Jeremiah, Malachi, Nehemiah, Nahum, John, Luke, Paul, and more. Who stands as witness to Dallin H Oaks’ claims?
According to Joseph
‘In his First Vision, Joseph Smith saw two distinct personages, two beings, two gods, thus clarifying that the then-prevailing beliefs concerning God and the Godhead were not true.’
‘The Prophet Joseph Smith taught…’
‘We know this from instruction given by the Prophet Joseph Smith...’
‘The Prophet Joseph Smith explained…’
You can see where this is going. The Mormon conception of God is founded entirely on what ‘the Prophet Joseph Smith taught…’ What Mormons ‘know,’ Joseph taught them to know.
He does call on Isaiah to make his case that God is knowable.
‘…in trying to teach Israelites the nature of God and His relationship to His children, the prophet Isaiah declared, as recorded in the Bible:
“To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?…
“Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?” (Isaiah 40:18, 21).’
You see the point he is making. ‘Have ye not known?’ is meant to emphasise knowing, a wasted point since we already agree God is knowable. But what is it Isaiah wants Israelites to know about God?
‘Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counsellor? Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding?’ (Is.40:13/14)
Reading further in the Isaiah text, nicely selected by this Mormon leader, we read, ‘Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.’ (Is.40:28)
Isaiah is describing the immutable and incomprehensible nature of God, not of gods. No plan of salvation brought him to his place, no one instructed, enlightened, or taught him for he is God eternally. His understanding no one can fathom. In other words, he is incomprehensible. Yet Isaiah would have Israel know him such that they would trust him.
Later God declares of himself, ‘You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.’ (Is.44:8) ‘I am the LORD and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.’ (Is.45:5)
The gods of Mormonism
What do Mormons do with this conception of God? Christians talk about a Trinity, what do Mormons talk about? A Council. The Mormon Godhead is a Council. What are the respective roles of members of this Council?
“Any person that had seen the heavens opened knows that there are three personages in the heavens who hold the keys of power, and one presides over all…
“…These personages … are called God the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the Witness or Testator.
“[It is] the province of the Father to preside as the Chief or President, Jesus as the Mediator, and the Holy Ghost as the Testator or Witness.” (Teachings of Joseph Smith (2007), 268)
Mormonism has three gods, one of whom is president of this quorum of divine beings. This presidency presides over and administers, ‘the plan of salvation, the great plan of happiness, or the plan of redemption.’ Dallin Oaks goes on to say, ‘The gospel of Jesus Christ is central to this plan.’ Note, the gospel isn’t the plan, something Christians might assume. How central we shall see.
There is a lot of this world in this idea of a presiding authority exercising ‘keys of power,’ over what looks for all the world like a business plan, or a version of Future Mapping.
The Mormon plan of salvation claims to answer the familiar questions, ‘Where did we come from?’ ‘Why are we here?’ and ‘Where are we going?’ Its rather like asking, ‘How long have you been with us now?’ ‘How are you fitting in?’ and ‘Where do you see yourself in X years?’ Consider:
‘As spirit children of God, in an existence prior to mortality, we desired a destiny of eternal life but had progressed as far as we could without a mortal experience in a physical body. To provide that opportunity, our Heavenly Father presided over the Creation of this world, where, deprived of our memory of what preceded our mortal birth, we could prove our willingness to keep His commandments and experience and grow through the other challenges of mortal life. But in the course of that mortal experience, and as a result of the Fall of our first parents, we would suffer spiritual death by being cut off from the presence of God, be soiled by sin, and become subject to physical death. The Father’s plan anticipated and provided ways to overcome all of those barriers.’ (Dallin Oaks, p.101 emphasis added)
We desired – here is personal ambition.
Opportunity – a chance opens up to fulfil that ambition.
Prove our willingness – a chance to work hard and shine.
Ways to overcome – and gain promotion, mastery over your destiny.
Compare this with the Bible’s account of man’s place in God’s purposes:
‘Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over…all the earth, and over all the creatures…’ So God created man…God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the ground.” (Gen:1:26-28)
The Larger Catechism of the Westminster Assembly declares, ‘Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, (Ro.11:36; 1 Cor.10:31) and fully to enjoy him forever. (Ps.73:24-28; Jn.17:21-23)’
We are made to inhabit and possess the earth, to rule over God’s creation, to work, take care of, cultivate, and enjoy creation, co-regent with and enjoying fellowship with God (Ps.8: 6-8; 104:14/15; Amos 4:13) Mankind’s greatest satisfaction and ambition was to be found in friendship with God (Ps.27:1-4) The answer to Mormonism’s ‘purpose questions’ might come as, ‘Creation is my beginning and God made me to rule his creation. I am here to enjoy the earth, and my ultimate purpose is to do his will and glorify him,’ not to fulfil my own will and purpose. Far from having the memory of our beginnings wiped, we have a very clear picture of our origins in creation.
The ‘barriers’ that Mormonism sees as integral to our being tested for worthiness, and glory, are described in the Bible as the dire consequences of the fall, ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ (Ro.3:23) God’s plan is one of rescue and restoration, not ambition and achievement. Paul describes the one-time lives of the saved:
‘As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.’ (Eph.2:1-3)
Our life without Christ is ‘dead,’ we served another, lived among and were one of ‘the disobedient,’ ‘gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature…by nature objects of wrath.’ This is not a test but an eternal death sentence.
A Very Different Destination
Paul goes on:
‘But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved.’ (Eph.2:4/5)
Our eternal destiny is not in our own hands but it is God who, because of his love and mercy, brings the dead back to life, saves by grace, through faith in Christ. As to that eternal destiny, Paul writes:
‘And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.’ (Eph.2:6/7)
Mormons anticipate a day when they might be found worthy to enter the ‘celestial kingdom’ of God, but my Bible tells me, because I am ‘in Christ,’ I am already seated in the heavenly realms with Christ and am awaiting the coming ages when this promise is fully realised. It would be worth your while spending time reading the first two chapters of Ephesians and noting the number of times everything is contingent on being ‘in Christ.’
Paul writes about that day:
‘I consider our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.’ (Ro.8:18-21)
It is Paul’s heartfelt prayer that believers in Ephesus, and therefore we, ‘may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.’ (Eph.3:17-19)
The Mormon plan of salvation is typically presented in graphic form. I wonder if you can spot what is missing in this otherwise pretty comprehensive picture of the Mormon meta-narrative? Where is the Fall? Where is Jesus? Where is Calvary? Where the empty tomb? Where is the immeasurable love of God that freely saves the wicked who cannot save themselves?
Where is the promise of Jesus:
‘I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life [present possession] and will not be condemned [future assurance]; he has crossed over from death to life’ [past event]. (Jn.5:24)